I had no idea, growing up, how grateful I would one day be to have a mother and father who love me, no matter what. Today, things I took for granted — I am loved and I love; I am precious and uphold others’ worth; I am forgiven and I forgive — these things are challenged at every turn. If I say I have no father wound, but rather have a wonderful father, in many circles I am not believed. Dysfunction and therapy are assumed. I do not fit in. Thank God!
We had a big reunion last year of my extended family, four generations, many in their teens and 20s. There was lots of exclaiming over the unusual gathering of so many intact and happy families. God’s blessing, indeed! But those of us who are old enough to look back, know the blessings didn’t fall like gentle rain. Sometimes they came through thunderstorms and after floods. Mold had to be bleached out, rot dealt with, loss mourned. There was a day when our family was battered, divided, and broken. Many times we have been driven to our knees. “There but for the grace of God” go we.
And that is what it’s all about: the grace of God. Without it, there is no health or life or wholeness. But with it? The possibilities are glorious!
Failing families are nothing new. Adam and Eve’s first son killed his brother. The Old Testament reads like a soap opera in which jealousy, intrigue, and betrayal infect even the “good guys.” Talk about dysfunction! But that is our state, thanks to the Fall. And when God set out to fix things, he didn’t discard the family. He started with it. He established his own special chosen family, the people of Israel: who turned out to be just as messed up as anyone else. A god of our making might have created them without the possibility of sin – but then they’d be puppets. Then they couldn’t truly love him back. So rather than waving a magic wand to fix things, he rolled up his sleeves and plunged into the middle of the mess. He was born into his dysfunctional family and redeemed it from the inside.
This is the good news of the gospel! The answer for our troubles today is not to redefine family but to redeem it. We Christians have the great privilege and mission of bearing Christ to the world. When he is born not just in our hearts but in our lives, when we invite him to live in our marriages, in our child-bearing and child-rearing, when we give grace room to work: our families are transformed. We become light and witnesses of light to the world.
There is a truth about families that we’ve forgotten in our insistence on external form (one father, one mother, faithful, etc.). The form doesn’t dictate the inside, it helps make it possible. We thought that by preserving form, we would preserve holiness. That our families would automatically be “good.” But where is the light, where there’s nothing to burn? Where is the witness of goodness that comes without struggle? The family is a school of love, humility, self-sacrifice, and so on because it contains the conditions for developing those things. We’re stuck with people who are different from us, and everyone’s selfish, and our lives depend on each other. We have to share and help and forgive to survive, and if we don’t learn those things, we suffer the consequences. But if we do – we are equipped to be light not just in our own families, but in the world.
The good news of the gospel is that God is our father, Jesus our brother, the Spirit our guide. When God became a man, he didn’t just invite us into his family, he joined ours. He took on mortality, temptation, pain and suffering, and made it the door to heaven. God wants to plunge into our mixed-up lives and families, take flesh in them, and set us free.
We live in painful times. We can’t legislate our way back to whole families. But we can invite God into our own families and allow him to bring joy and peace and healing out of the same pain and struggles that might otherwise bring death. We can demonstrate the power of the Cross. It won’t be easy, but we have God on our side. He made us for just this purpose.
©2015 Sarah W Christmyer